My hometown is Clitheroe, a bustling settlement nestling at the foot of Pendle Hill in Lancashire. You may have heard of Pendle, the hill and the whole area is famed for its legendary association with witches.
It was in 1612 that twelve people from the Pendle area were put on trial for witchcraft . Lancashire in those days was mired in superstition. Seen as a remote and heathern backwater , accusations of sorcery were rife. Several of the accused ‘witches’ were made to walk the 40 miles from Barrowford to Lancaster Castle , where they were imprisoned underground , awaiting their fate.
The trouble started when one Alizon Device was accused by a pedlar of putting a curse on him, causing the man to become crippled on the spot. Under questioning the young girl confessed to being a witch and members of her family too.
Alizon’s family were headed by her 80 year old Grandmother Elizabeth Southernes, known as Demdike. These simple folk were dirt poor and made their living begging, often cursing those who wouldn’t entertain them. Demdike in particular had the appearance of an old hag, and had begun to believe in her own witchy powers, especially as people were prone to dying after her hexes. Of course in the seventeenth century illness and death were coincidentally common.
As more of the family were implicated in witchy goings on, another local family become embroiled in the accusations. Also headed by an elderly matriarch , known as Chattox , she and her relatives made a living from begging as well. Demdike and Chattox did not get on and both accused each other of and admited to being witches.
With their loved ones incarcerated, a gathering was then held at Malkin Tower. Possibly hoping to find a way to prove the prisoners innocence, things would only go from bad to worse for the ‘ witches ‘ remaining family members, friends and allies. When word got around about the meeting at Malkin Tower, chief prosecutor and magistrate Roger Nowell rounded up the attendees. For surely it had been a devious covern, plotting their kins escape.
It was on the evidence of a nine year old Star Witness that dammed yet more suspected witches. Jennet Device , the younger sister of Alizon and grandaughter of Demdike spoke out against her own mother and brother. She also confirmed the attendance of and gave evidence against several of the folk allegedly seen by her at Malkin Tower. These included landowner Alice Nutter, the only one of the accused who wasn’t of low birth. It seems that although Alice denied being there, she didnt offer up where she was at the time. Some say that Alice may have in fact been with Catholic friends. Being Catholic in protestant ruled England in 1612 was highly dangerous and Alice would not have wanted to implicate them.
So it was that of the 12 people accused of witchcraft, 10 were hanged from the gallows on moorland just above Lancaster. Demdike had already died in prison, and one lucky person, Alice Grey, was actually found innocent. All of the accused were not allowed any defence council, many were put to death on the hearsay of a nine year old child and two families were almost completely wiped out.
Here is a list of the 10 people who were hung as witches in Lancaster.
- Anne Whittle ( “Chattox”)
- Ann Redfearn
- Elizabeth Device
- Alice Nutter
- Alizon Device
- James Device
- Katherine Hewitt
- Jane Bulcock
- John Bulcock
- Isobel Robey
The Pendle Witches live on today in the hearts and in the imaginations of many Lancashire people and visitors to the county. There is a 52 mile walking trail that follows in the prisoners footsteps from Barrowford to Lancaster , complete with 10 Tercet waymarkers, one for each of the 10 lives taken.
Visitors to Pendle can also discover the Pendle Sculpture Trail in Aitken Wood near Barley or buy spooky gifts from Witches Galore in the village of Newchurch. Clitheroe too has a new shop devoted to all things Wiccan, The Cackling Witch is located on Castle Gate.
Whether the Pendle Witches were indeed Witches or simply innocent victims of another era, there is no doubt that the scattered villages and wild countryside here hold a quiet air of mystery. And sometimes Pendle Hill itself has been known to cast a spell. After a heavy snowfall melts away, what remains in the ditches and gullys , could be seen to resemble……a Witch on a broomstick.
Thanks for reading. 🍁
33 thoughts on “Pendle Witchery.”
Always enjoy reading about this area and its history as we’re very distantly related to the Bulcock’s. Would love to visit and explore Pendle one day. X
Amazing to have such a tale attached to your family tree, how fascinating. Hope you do get to explore Pendle oneday. X
A brilliant summary of the whole sad affair. Well done.
Sir Hugh and I walked the Pendle Witch Trail a few years ago from Barrowford to Lancaster. It was an excellent excursion with interest all the way and the added incentive of finding all the 10 Tercets. I have the book of Carol Anne Duffy’s poems.
Thanks for highlighting the Pendle Sculpture Trail in Aitken Wood which I must visit, it would have been good today in the thick mist!
Somewhere I have pictures of that snowy witch on Pendle.
Hi and thanks for a brilliant reply.
I should have known that you guys would have done the walk. The 10 Tercets are such a good idea.
My Mum has the picture. It had pride of place in our living room at Mearley.
I’ve only managed 5 of the tercets 😦 Need to do the full route including the Hornby Road as we’ve discussed elsewhere!
The offer still holds, but maybe longer days in Spring would be better for you.
Sorry to bomb your site Shazza.
Spring – sounds like a good idea. Will firm up nearer the time 🙂
Haha , no worries. 😊
Scotland also has a terrible history of witch trials. I’d like to see the sculptures and way-markers some day (though I’m not sure I’d walk the whole trail!)
Yes I will have to read about the Scottish Witches sometime.
There’s a short sculpture trail just outside of Barley which is more my kind of length 😊
Try listening to “Heal and Harrow” by Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl https://www.healandharrow.com/ based on stories of the Scottish Witches – it’s available to listen to and Spotify. A book accompanying the project has just been published too written by Màiri Kidd
Thanks for the recommendations. 😚
You’re welcome 😉
Can recommend both the items Michael mentions too, the book is beautiful.
A fascinating place and history. I admit to having a bit of a fascination with witch trials, I’d love to visit Pendle Hill and do at least a section of the walk. They deserve to be remembered, don’t they?
Absolutely! Any woman with a cat or a dog could be viewed with suspicion. Your Wolf would have been an excellent Familiar!
He would! I suspect woodland loving, foraging, quick tongued me wouldn’t have fared well in the days of witch hunts!
I’m glad I didn’t live back then – having two dogs and two cats, one which is all black, I think I would definitely have been viewed with suspicion 🙂
Haha, yes , I think alot of us would. ☺️
That snow witch on Mother Pendle is brill. I’ve never seen it having only been up there in better weather
I don’t think it’s appeared in a while. I hope it will again. Spooky and magical.
We walked up to Pendle Hill some years ago. It is a lovely place to live nearby ☺️. The witch story is also interesting and sad.
It is lovely and I don’t really make the most of it. Here’s to more Pendle explorations.
Fascinating! James I was really suspicious/afraid of ‘witches’ and I think there were a lot of witch trials during his reign.
Yes I was meant to put that in somewhere, it does explain alot. Thanks Emma. X
That is really interesting to learn the history of this area! The Pendle Sculpture garden looks like a neat spot to check out.
Thanks Allie, it’s a spooky but beautiful place.
Thank you so much for this fascinating post, I have heard of the Pendle Witches and have seen a museum in Lancaster that is dedicated to the story but knew nothing about it. I really enjoyed reading this post.
Aw thank you.
It is, thank you. X
Lovely retelling of the history. They were probably midwives and herbalists too.
Yes I think they were practiced in herbs. X